|| The Boston Globe
|| April 9, 2011
|| Thea Singer
George Balanchine’s two-act “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ (1962) is not so much a telling of Shakespeare’s tale — though it is that, too — as a distillation of the play’s themes: the entanglements and blindness of love, the folly of fate, and the transformative power of dreams, whether at night, as we sleep, or in the light of day.
That’s because his version, inspired by Felix Mendelssohn’s lustrous overture and incidental music, is full of so much dancing. Last night, the Boston Ballet inhabited Balanchine’s “Dream’’ — with its gossamer webs and enchanted firefly-lit forests — and for the most part kept the magic alive.
It’s not an easy task in Act I. There the complexity of events can make your head spin. Puck, assistant to Oberon, who’s king of the fairies, administers the juice of a flower pierced by Cupid to various parties (humans and fairies), causing them to fall in love with various other parties, Titania, queen of the fairies, among them. She becomes besotted with the weaver Bottom, who sprouts the head of an ass — Puck’s idea of a hilarious joke.
Many versions of the tale resort largely to mime and acting. But here, Balanchine’s architectural impulses shine through, particularly with the corps work, and Boston Ballet’s dancers often impart a musicality to even the most ordinary of gestures.
Consider, for example, the two crossed loves — Helena (Kathleen Breen Combes) and Demetrius (Yury Yanowsky), and Hermia (Erica Cornejo) and Lysander (Pavel Gurevich). Combes lusting after Yanowsky is all exposed nerves, her leg drawn out like molasses from her core as she reaches to grasp him. Cornejo’s feet move with the fragility and speed of butterfly wings, and her phrasing bespeaks heartache. When she’s rejected by Lysander (who, bewitched, is chasing after Helena), the pauses in her runs grab like a catch in the throat.
Jeffrey Cirio’s Puck is a sprite on a mission. He’s light as air and propelled by prankish delight. But he also has a conscience — not all that common among Pucks — and his awareness of the consequences of his actions adds depth to the role.
Lorna Feijóo as Titania is at times a mite stiff; you can see the mechanics of her shifting from step to step. But she charms in the scene where she falls for Bottom-as-ass. Her upper body, with its impulses originating deep in her sternum, is particularly expressive. When she hooks her arms under Bottom’s and rests her head on his back, you can’t help but smile. You delight in her delight with his galumphing, grass-eating muleness. Robert Kretz as Bottom is priceless; he is understated, not hammy, as he struggles to return Titania’s attentions but can barely keep his animal nature in check.
Lia Cirio, as Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, has feet that dart like icepicks. And the students of the Boston Ballet School, dozens of them, it seems, are not just adorable but smack on the money as butterflies and fairies. They fill the stage with now buzzing, now lilting energy. The wooded glen onstage is their paradise.
But the essence of Balanchine’s ballet — what “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ means to him — lies in Act II, a wedding Divertissement pas de deux par excellence. Larissa Ponomarenko owns the rest of the night here, with her luscious renderings of arcs so deep they nearly snap and ankle taps that have the clarity of a bell.